Growing flowers you can eat adds an extra element of surprise in your garden, offering up an opportunity to harvest more food. Edible flowers add color, flavor, and beauty to homegrown salads and other dishes.
Another reason to grow flowers in your garden? They’re great for pollinators!
Imagine eating flowers in a salad of spring greens with raspberry vinaigrette. Or think of biting into a petal of chive blossom with its sweet-spicy flavor, along with a juicy, slightly bitter, baby romaine leaf. Provided that you follow a few safety rules, edible flowers can make an ordinary dish remarkable.
Growing edible flowers in your garden
There are a surprising number of garden flowers you can eat, and many are probably recognizable to you. The flowers that you tuck into planters to beautify your patio, or plant around the edges to attract pollinators may also be the next addition to your dinner salad.
Let’s highlight a few of the edible flowers you can grow in your garden. (For a longer list, go here.)
We all recognize basil leaves as the base for pesto, but growing basil in your garden means you’ll have spicy little basil flowers to add to salads. Tuck basil plants into your garden near tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant to increase their yield.
Commonly used in beauty and bath products, this fragrant herb puts out beautiful flowers that will make your garden shine. Lavender prefers full sun and well-drained soil. Add edible lavender flowers to sweets and drinks for a unique flavor.
So easy to grow that their bright orange and yellow blooms are often visible on roadsides, nasturtium flowers are edible, as is the entire plant. (Use nasturtium leaves to make a foraged version of dolmades.)
Pansies and Violas
These pretty flowers you can eat are a summer annual and a staple for seasonal flower pots. They prefer cooler weather, making them good for early spring color and fall plantings. Add pansies, violas, or Johnny Jump Ups to salads or press their pretty faces into shortbread cookies.
A bright and cheery perennial flower, primroses prefer a somewhat shaded spot in your garden. These, too, are good additions to patio planters. Primrose flowers are edible and can add a pretty touch to cakes and desserts when crystallized. Here’s how.
When we grow squash like zucchini or crookneck in our gardens, we’re usually counting on them to produce fruit. But squash blossoms are edible, too. They can be added to salads or stuffed and batter fried.
Eating flowers safely
- While a great many flowers are edible, not all are, so make a positive identification before you bite — be sure you know which flowers you can eat!
- Grow your edible flowers in your own organic garden where you know they haven’t been sprayed with pesticides and herbicides, and where they are sheltered from vehicle exhaust.
- Many flowers have a bitter calyx. Separate the petals and pinch off the bitter white base of each one, using only the fragrant petals for food.
- Avoid using the pistil and stamen, the sexual parts of the flower. In many flowers, the pollen can cause allergies. Some exceptions are pansies, Johnny jump-ups, scarlet runner beans, clover, and chive blossoms.
Prepare edible flowers in the morning
- Pick flowers in the morning while the moisture content is highest.
- Wash flowers by dipping in cold water before use. This will dislodge any insects and dust.
- To store edible flowers put them between layers of damp paper towel, inside a sealed container. They will keep several days, up to a week this way. If you prefer to avoid paper waste, use light cotton handkerchiefs, dampened, in place of the paper towels.
Eating flowers in your salads
Sprinkle edible flowers on top of green salads just before serving. Use pansies, Johnny jump-ups, and scarlet runner bean blossoms whole. Use just the petals of roses, nasturtiums, and apple blossoms. For flowers like chives and clover, separate the individual flowers from the ball and sprinkle them liberally over the salad.
Add fragrant flowers to vinegar or oil and infuse them to capture their seasonal flavors and aroma. Then use the oil and vinegar to dress your salad. Spicy chive blossoms, dill or fennel flowers, anise-hyssop flowers, or other zesty petals make the best infused vinegar. [Here’s how to make infused vinegar.]
The rule for the perfect salad dressing is three parts oil to one part vinegar or lemon juice. Use this as a basis for your homemade dressing.
Floral flavors are more suited to sweeter infusions of honey or sugar. Use rose infused honey in iced tea to accompany your salad, but leave it out of the dressing. [Grow Rosa Rugosa Roses for Food and Medicine] On the other hand, too many strongly flavored petals can overpower.
Use floral petals sparingly for color and just a hint of flavor, in your baby lettuce mix. A light sprinkle of flowers has a more dramatic effect than an invasion of color and spice.
Flowers you can eat and how to use them
It will help you get the right mix of flavors when you are mixing your own remarkable salads using edible flowers.
Originally published in September 2015; this post has been updated.